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This past weekend’s Titanic Series Race 1 results are in.

Saturday was a bright, sunny day and unseasonably warm for much of the race. The Race Committee was kind enough to delay the start of the race until Firefly got to the start, since we were late leaving the docks. Skipper Dave made a great start over the line. So, although there was quite a bit of jockeying behind us, we were able to get to clean air quickly. Over the next 4.6 nautical miles, we lost some ground to Shadowfax and Wiz, but we were all never far apart, which always keeps the race interesting. After corrected time, we still placed in the same order we finished – third.

Congrats to Wiz on the first place finish this week. We’ll get you next time!

Titanic Series Race 1 - Jib

Sneaking Up On The Competition Wing On Wing (No Spinnaker Racing In The Winter)

Firefly Titanic Race One - Hank Trimming
Hank Trimming On The First Downwind Leg

Pirates in the News

It’s been an interesting week in piracy news.

This year’s Volvo Ocean Race is a bit different. Because of the threat of piracy, the organizers arranged for the sailboats to be loaded on to an armed cargo ship to be covertly transported through high-risk pirate areas. With each boat costing more than $2 million, there is good reason to be cautious.

The result of months of planning, the first hush-hush operation happened last month during the second leg of the race.  All the teams convened at an undisclosed port in east Africa, where they were lifted onto a freighter, and later deposited in the Indian Ocean about one day’s sail from the finish line in Abu Dhabi. Then, when it was time to start the third leg, the 15 ton boats were loaded up on to the Dutch ship Happy Diamond. Once again surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire, the boats were delivered discreetly to a secret port, later revealed to be Maldive capital Male. The teams are off again, and at the time I write this Team Telefónica has just taken the lead in day 5.

I found this operation fascinating, particularly because I am halfway through The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur. I followed the precautions of the race organizers plans with interest, as they didn’t quite match what I had been reading. Piracy, according to Bahadur at least so far, is a crime of opportunity not necessarily advanced intelligence operations.  I think everyone would agree though that finding multi-million dollar sailboats covered in internationally recognized brands unguarded in the Indian Ocean would be an amazing opportunity for a pirate. So, of course, the abundance of caution is a good idea

The other amazing story from this week was when the U.S. Navy SEALs, rumored to be SEAL Team Six of Bin Laden fame, impressed the world again, making headlines with a daring rescue of two hostages in Somali this week. The team parachuted into Somalia to save Danish Refugee Council Demining Group aid workers Jessica Buchanan, 32 of America, and Poul Hagen Thisted, 60 of Denmark. Nine suspected pirates were killed in the firefight that ended a more than 3 month ordeal that began when the two were kidnapped at gun point while travelling to the airport having just completed a workshop on landmines. Frustratingly, as international efforts have stepped up on the high seas, pirate mayhem like this is growing more frequent on land.

Reported Incidents of Pirate Attacks

It appears that last weekend’s DISC Titanic Race has been rescheduled for this Saturday on the Potomac River. Hopefully we won’t have freezing rain or snow again.

Fortunately, I just finished compiling tips for winter sailing for my monthly blog at

Read my tips for staying safe, if not dry, this winter sailing season How To Be A Frostbite Sailor – Safety First!

Or just check out this video uploaded by DISC member Wayne Williams of folks mostly breaking the rules on New Year’s Day, when Firefly competed in the annual Hair Of The Dog (aka Hangover) Race.

Don’t worry, it was an unusually warm day.
Hopefully it will be just as beautiful this weekend.

Arriving in St. Maarten today, Laura Dekker, of the Netherlands, became likely the youngest sailor to sail solo around the world.*

Her trip was tumultuous before it even got started. When the Dutch government moved to prevent the dangerous journey she ran away to the Lesser Antilles. She was ultimately police-escorted home, where she persevered in the courts. She eventually set sail January 20, 2011, just months after her American rival Abbey Sunderland had to be dramatically rescued at sea.

Dekker sailed conservatively (and wisely, I believe) by stopping regularly at ports along her the 27,000 nautical mile voyage. Anchoring Guppy, her 38’ sailboat, gave her an opportunity to make repairs, rest and study – she is 16 after all. Other young rivals circumnavigate the world non-stop, dramatically and unnecessarily increasing the risks. The longest leg for Dekker was 47 days in the Indian Ocean. Read all about her trials, tribulations and joys on her blog.

One of the most exciting stories about this journey, I think, is the realization that these young, ambitious sailors making the news are women. I love that the headlines today and in recent years aren’t youngest ‘girl’ to circumnavigate the globe, but rather youngest ‘sailor’. These young women are the future of sailing. While I don’t think it is wise to encourage more dangerous voyages, I do hope that their stories inspire other girls to explore yachting.

The third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, kicks off in just a few hours. This year, there are no female competitors on board, but 111 women have participated since its inception in 1973. Perhaps in 2014 we will finally see a predominantly female crew aspire to win the “Mt. Everest of sailing.”

Laura Dekker with her sailboat Guppy

Laura Dekker with her sailboat Guppy

* Record keepers like the Guinness World Records won’t confirm the accomplishment, as they no longer wish to encourage this dangerous feat by younger and younger sailors.

I tend to throw myself into the deep end when it comes to sports. I have a near-delusional bravado that I can learn sports quick, so I just charge ahead. Sometimes it works out, but other times (like any kind of skiing) not so much.

DISC Sailing - KISS Series - 06.14.2011

DISC Sailing - KISS Series - 06.14.2011

I mention this, because it may be a surprise to learn I haven’t taken any boating or sailing classes yet. I just signed up for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Boating Safety and Navigation class. I am pretty excited to get started with some formal training to complement the books I have been reading and my on-the-water education from my teammates.

The classes are held on Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m., at the DC Harbor Police Station, 550 Water Street SW, Washington, DC.

For only $25, or $30 for two people, you’ll learn everything from local state regulations to knot tying. It is an amazing deal. Check out the syllabus below.

Sign-up soon to reserve your spot and I’ll see you there.


Jan  18  Registration; Chapter 1, Which Boat Is for You?
23  Chapter 2, Equipment: Legal Requirements
25  No class
30  Chapter 3, Trailering Your Boat

Feb   1  Chapter 4, Boat Handling
6  Chapter 5, Aids to Navigation
8  Chapter 6, Rules of the Nautical Road
13  Chapter 7, Inland Boating; Chapter 8, Boating Safety
15  Chapter 9, Introduction to Navigation
20  Chapter 11, Lines, Knots, and Splices
22  No class
27  Final Exam and Graduation

Optional classes
Feb  29  Chapter 10, Powering Your Boat

Mar  5  Chapter 12, Weather and Boating
7  Chapter 13, Your Boat’s Radio
12  Final Exam on Optional classes

I was very excited to start off 2012 on the water. When Skipper Dave sent an email about the annual Hair of the Dog Race on New Year’s Day, I thought it sounded like fun. Dragging myself out of bed on the morning of January 1, after partying with friend on New Year’s Eve, was not fun.

Hair of the Dog: Ben Takes The Tiller

Hair of the Dog: Ben Takes The Tiller

Greasy McDonald’s breakfast in hand, I met up with the team at the marina. Fortunately, or not so fortunately, I wasn’t the only one with an unintended hangover that day. With that in mind, we started the race cautiously, choosing the conservative jib #3.*

The course was to be three laps on the the Potomac River between the boat house north of Old Town and the Woodrow Wilson bridge (marks 6 and 2).

With only about a dozen boats on the water, we enjoyed a less hectic start than usual, and were able to sail our intended course. By the time we rounded the first mark, we had hit our stride and were feeling more confident – and less hung-over thanks the cold, fresh air. We switched to the larger jib #2 and started gaining on the competition.

The race results aren’t in, but I think we finished in the middle of the pack.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and temps were probably in the high 50’s, though it was darn cold when we were beating upwind on the water. Thanks to the Daingerfield Island Sailing Club for organizing the race – it was a great way to start the New Year.

*The jib is the smaller, ‘front’ sail on a boat. The jib contributes to speed and power. Jibs come in many sizes, and most boats will carry several for different conditions. The larger the number of the jib, the smaller it is. The largest jib, called a Genoa or Jib #1, will be so large that it will overlap the main sail behind it when you view the boat from the side.

A smaller jib would be desirable in strong wind when you may be worried about being overpowered. It may also be a good choice when when your crew is hungover.

A Smaller Jib Means Less Surface Area To Catch The Wind

A Smaller Jib Means Less Surface Area To Catch The Wind

Check out this cool article I found today in Fast Company, profiling the latest technology use in the fight against piracy:

Water Cannons! Lasers! Sonic Weapons! Fighting Somali Pirates With Science by Neal Ungerleider.

Or if you are feeling lazy, check our this video demonstration of defense tactics:


The holiday season is always a blur so I have fallen behind in blogging, but I wanted to be sure to share this fun night with you all.

The Firefly crew competed in the 12th annual Old Town Alexandria Parade of Lights earlier this month.

This was our first year entering the popular holiday event, and so we were not quite sure how to compete. With no generator, and only the sailboat’s regular boat battery, we were most anxious that we figure out how to tap into this power source and that we not drain it before we finished the parade.

Volleying emails, we settled on a design that was simple enough for us beginners and appropriately holiday-inspired. Check out the final draft design, and a fun runner-up design I made that we just don’t have the skills for (yet).

After we picked Let It Snow, Hank volunteered to bring a converter for the battery and we were on our way. Until he mentioned we should use LED lights. The efficient lights would conserve power and, I realized sadly, not something any of us had. After all, you don’t buy new Christmas lights every year. We all had the old, power-sucking kind of lights. After trying family and friends, I went to Micheal’s and bought out their entire stock of LED snowflake lights, and bought hundreds of feet of white LED lights at Target. (it turns out we only needed 60 ft).

It Worked! Snowflakes Falling

It Worked! Snowflakes Falling

We were feeling confident until we went to the Parade of Lights planning party/meeting. The night was nearly ruined when the captains began to introduce themselves and their boat’s theme. The first boat introduced had our theme! Sure, we knew weren’t original and we weren’t trying to win this year, but still… You don’t want to see someone in your dress, you know?

Then, after the party we were talking with the captain of Miss Appropriate and he scared the beejeezus out of us with tales of other boaters who tried the parade of lights without a generator.

Confidence shaken, Firefly crew regrouped the morning of the parade to cut out the letters and the shape of a snowman in cardboard. We covered everything with tin foil and lights, for max shine effect, and attached them to the starboard side of Firefly. The snowflakes were hoisted up the mast and we held our breath as Hank connected the converter, battery and lights. Everything worked! We had lights… for now.

That evening, we filled the sailboat with friends, hot chili and sausage balls, and warmed booze. We sailed up the Anacostia stealthily with our lights off. We waited until we were near the judges stand in DC to announce ourselves and light up the night with our super bright LED lights. We sailed down to the 14th street bridge and back again, waving at the crowd that had gathered on the waterfront.

Then we cut the lights and stepped on the gas to keep up with the rest of the parade. We booked it at 4 knots an hour on our outboard engine and arrived at Old Town Alexandria to even bigger crowds. Our electricity lasted the whole night; the sausage balls were not quite so lucky. After the parade, we warmed ourselves at the after party at the Fish Market, where we toasted to LED technology.

As Hank told the crowds:

“We may be slow, we may be last, but our message the whole season will last. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

We are planning to win next year.  We now know at least that the boat battery will last if we stick to LED lights, and that we need to pack more sausage balls

Got any good design ideas to share?

Firefly's Let It Snow Entry

Firefly's Let It Snow Entry

Today, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team announced they will forfeit the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. The team was off to a harrowing start last week when their mast broke into three pieces. In the dark of night, the team mounted a successful, dramatic self-rescue and returned to Alicante, Spain, the race’s starting port. After just a few days of repairs, the team had attempted to rejoin the race and make up lost time. Unfortunately, the weather is just too light to help them get back into a competitive position.

Now, instead of racing to the finish in Cape Town, the crew is racing to Lisbon. There, they will need to quickly prepare their Volvo Open 70 sailboat to be transported by cargo ship to the start of the second leg.

Just six hours into the nine month race, the Chinese entry Team Sanya was forced to quit due to critical damage to their bow. So the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team’s strategic decision to retire leaves just 4 boats to finish the first leg . Early on, Groupama broke with the pack, heading east and gaining a substantial lead of more than 200 nautical miles. We will see they can hold on to it… (Volvo Ocean Race standings)

Groupama Sailing Team Is Still In First - Yvan Zedda/

Groupama Sailing Team Is Still In First - Yvan Zedda/

The Volvo Ocean Race promises extreme sailing and drama every three years – and the 2011 race is no different.Just hours in to the 9 month-long race, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team found themselves in real trouble.

The race kicked-off Saturday afternoon with much excitement in Alicante, Spain, but it was in the dark of night in violent seas, long after the spectators had gone home, that things got really interesting. Disaster struck when the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew’s 31-meter mast broke into three pieces, forcing them to return to port when they were just 84 nautical miles in to the 6,500 nautical mile first leg of the race. Watch the crew’s dramatic self-rescue in the face of fierce seas below.

Amazingly, a new mast has already arrived and the inspiring Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew expects to re-join the race within three days. I am happy they are all safe and wish them luck in regaining the lost time on their way to Cape Town.

Read the full report from Volvo Ocean Race.


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